By Wayne Whittaker, Boston Bruins Correspondent
If you’re unaware, Peter Chiarelli is pretty good at his job.
From bottom of the Eastern Conference barrel to Stanley Cup Champions in 5 years, he’s constructed a Boston Bruins team that is proving they were no one-hit wonder last season.
While many foundation players were already in the Bruins’ system upon Chiarelli’s arrival (Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic, David Krejci, Tim Thomas to name a few), he was able to not only build on that core group, but also assembled a roster full of complimentary role players who helped redefine Boston Bruins Hockey.
So far, so good for the former Harvard man. But how Chiarelli handles the upcoming offseason will go along way in shaping the immediate and long-term future of the Boston Bruins.
This year, Krejci, Rich Peverley, and Adam McQuaid have signed on the dotted line, linking them to Boston for a few more seasons. That leaves nine (!) free agents for Chiarelli and company to negotiate deals with, or walk away from.
With prospects like Dougie Hamilton, Jordan Caron, Jared Knight, Ryan Spooner and Zach Hamill (should he be re-signed) vying for roster spots on future Bruins squads, it’s hard to imagine Boston’s roster will remain basically untouched like it was last offseason.
While smoke surrounding the Tomas Kaberle deal was visible from the Zakim Bridge, the Bruins were working on a deal that turned out to have a larger impact on the team than the Toronto “blockbuster”.
Chris Kelly was acquired from Ottawa for a 2nd Round Pick, leaving many fans scratching their heads. He turned out to pay dividends for the black and gold in the playoffs, and has gotten even better since then.
This season, Kelly has not only filled the veteran leadership role left vacant by now retired future hall of famer Mark Recchi, but he also took on the unexpected role of sniper for the B’s, scoring 13 goals in 39 games.
It may very well come down to Kelly vs. Gregory Campbell for a roster spot next season. With the ‘A’ on his sweater, and the two-way game Boston loves, expect Kelly to win that battle and get his contract extension.
An integral part of the Bruins’ Cup run last year, Campbell came to Boston as part of the Nathan Horton trade with Florida. He filled the role of 4thline center, and from very early on it was evident that Chiarelli had finally found his man for the job.
An excellent role player, penalty killer, and all around tough guy, Campbell has flourished as a Bruin. It will be interesting to see whether or not he’s deemed to be a future asset for Boston.
Prediction: re-signed to a short term deal
The quintessential Bruin, Shawn Thornton has become a cult hero during his time with the Bruins organization. A leader in the locker room, and intimidator on the ice, it’s hard to imagine he’s not brought back for at least another year.
The only remaining Bruin from the record breaking three goals during a single penalty kill from 2009-2010, Paille has had his ups and downs in Boston. Since the halfway point of last season, however, he’s been an underappreciated part of the success his team has enjoyed.
He’s PJ Axelsson reincarnated- a phenomenal penalty killer, and one of the most frustrating breakaway shooters in Boston Bruins history.
It’s been a good run in Boston for Paille, but he may be in his final go-around in a black and gold sweater.
Prediction: B’s let him walk.
I’ll admit it, I’m much more impressed with Beniot Pouliot than I thought I would be. While he’s certainly not a consistent game-changer, he’s fitting in quite well on the third line, and from time to time shows flashes of brilliance offensively.
Low risk, high reward signing (one year, $1.1 million), and so far it’s working out for Boston. But if the price goes up next year, he’ll be gone.
Prediction: B’s let him walk.
My pre-season predictions had Boychuk being the odd man out on Boston’s blueline. But given how otherworldly the Bruins defense has been, how can you really complain about any individual’s performance?
Boychuk has done his part in silencing critics, regaining the swagger that made him so dangerous in the 2009-2010 campaign. Depending on the asking price, you have to imagine Chiarelli wouldn’t mind having #55 stick around.
Prediction: potential trade bait
Corvo has finally found his footing as another attempted solution to Chiarelli’s never ending quest for a “puck-moving defenseman”. He’s been perfectly fine, but it’s pretty well established that he’s a placeholder until Dougie Hamilton is ready to join the big club.
Prediction: B’s let him walk if Hamilton continues to progress
Have you checked out a stat sheet lately? Rask is currently 10-4-1, holds a 1.59 GAA, .945 save percentage, and has three shutouts on the season- hardly the stats of a back-up goaltender.
Any rumors of his imminent departure from Boston can now be forgotten. With Thomas entering the final year on his contract, look for Rask to make bank in the off-season.
The real risk here is how Chiarelli and company will fit the young netminder’s contract under the Cap without, A) compromising the quality of the roster’s depth, or B) signing Rask to a Bryzgalov sized (humaangus big) contract.
With CBA uncertain on the horizon, it’s possible Boston signs Rask to a bridge deal, two years or so, if Rask is willing to compromise a few dollars short term with assurance of a longer deal in the near future.
But if push comes to shove, Boston will commit to Tuukka Rask. He’s long been considered Boston’s goaltender of the future, and his next contract could solidify his role between the pipes for years to come.
There’s no shortage of storylines this season, and it’s pretty evident that this trend will continue well into the summer.